Finding the right words: Nothing beats the traditional Roget’s International Thesaurus. I still have the copy given to me as a high-school graduation gift, and it remains a favorite. I realize I’m dating myself, but it’s the Third Edition, copyright 1962 (which is actually a few years before my graduation, please take note).
Within easy reach I also have:
- Roget’s Super Thesaurus--entries in dictionary format, plus word-find lists to help you find just the right term.
- The Synonym Finder--also in dictionary format.
- Flip Dictionary--"for when you know what you want to say but can’t think of the word," this one helps you search by concept or phrase.
- The Dimwit’s Dictionary--a guide to overused words and phrases with suggested alternatives. A must for the cliché-addicted.
- Idiom Savant--the lingo of subcultures. If you want to know how a real estate agent or an in-line skater talks, for example, this is the book for you. (Caveat: this has been in print awhile, so usage may have changed.)
Writing basics: In my humble opinion, the best all-around guide to writing a good novel is Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer. Maybe you’ve heard Randy Ingermanson speak on MRUs (motivation-reaction units). Swain takes you through the whole process of scene, sequel, and much, much more. If you can buy only one book on craft, this is the one.
- GMC: Goal, Motivation & Conflict--an excellent book to help you make sure your plot is on track and your characters are believably motivated.
- Stein on Writing--a comprehensive book on just about every aspect of the writing craft, including problems and how to fix them.
- Writing the Breakout Novel (and workbook)--who hasn’t heard of Donald Maass and his intensive novel-writing workshops? In fact, Donald will be conducting the Early Bird session at this year’s ACFW conference!
- Word Painting--everything you always wanted to know about writing description.
- Plot & Structure--James Scott Bell’s clear-cut advice on building a novel.
- Getting Into Character--a favorite on character development by Brandilyn Collins.
- Creating Character Emotions--the worst and best ways to show emotion in your stories.
Then you may find help in a few of these:
- Self-Editing for Fiction Writers--a thorough guide to polishing your prose.
- The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes--are you guilty of any of these?
- Writing the Fiction Synopsis--step-by-step instructions to make yours shine.
- Your Novel Proposal from Creation to Contract--need I say more?
- You Can Market Your Book--unfortunately, writing is not just about writing, and there’s no escaping the need to learn the best ways to get the word out about your book.
- Networking at Writers Conferences--how to make the most of the contacts you make at a conference.
- Be Your Own Literary Agent--okay, not my first choice, but until you start getting noticed, it may be a necessity.
- No More Rejections--every writer’s dream!
Now it’s your turn. Which writing references do you consult most often? If you could keep only three writing books on your shelf, which ones would they be, and why?